Most of us spend a large percentage of our time on the computer either writing or responding to emails. Email is a huge source of clutter (and time-wasting) in our lives. Here are my rules for more orderly emailing:
• Consolidate your accounts. If possible, have all of your personal email accounts come into the same program.
• Answer your emails daily, and open each only once. In your personal life, you can get away with checking email once a day—first thing in the morning or at the end of the day, whatever works for you. In truth, if you have a smartphone, you’re likely checking email all day. Either way, the key to staying on top of correspondence is to make a decision and respond. Then there are only three options once you’ve responded: Delete the email, put it in an email folder, or print it and put it in a paper folder.
• Don’t sign up for newsletters, instant updates, and promotional emails that you don’t want. Be highly selective. It may seem easy to delete them, but they can accumulate and tend to bury the important emails that you do need to read.
• Use appropriate and meaningful subject lines. They make it easier to find emails and sort by subjects. They also tell you the main point of an email at a glance. When you continue responding to an email chain, be sure to change the subject line if it no longer applies (that is, if the email chain started out being about a home repair referral and ended up being about a nursery school recommendation).
• Don’t save emails as a visual reminder to take action. Use a to‑do list for that, or create a folder marked to do. Having too many emails on your computer is visually chaotic and can have the opposite effect of keeping you on track. Your goal is to have empty space at the bottom of your email screen each day.
I’m just one persnickety person, so I decided to ask two certifiable email experts how to deal with some of the trickiest (often self-created and self-replicating) problems that we all encounter with email. David Shipley and Will Schwalbe wrote an incredibly helpful book called Send: Why People Email so Badly and How to Do It Better. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of their advice:
1. Don’t open emails until you have time to deal with them. When you do, answer every one in two minutes or less, then take one of three actions with all the others: archive, delete, or move to a single follow-up folder.
2. Be brief when writing emails, and put the most important thing right at the top.
3. But not too brief! Don’t forget to be cordial.
4. Avoid hitting “reply all.” But once a Reply All festival gets started, don’t jump in to chastise the culprits—it just makes things worse.
5. You can email a thank-you. And you can email a thank-you for an emailed thank-you. But you can’t email a thank-you for an emailed thank-you to an email thank-you.
Words to live by!
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